Advocates vs. Influencers and Steps to a Successful Brand Advocacy Program

Guest post by Eric Melin, Manager Marketing & Communications at Social: IRL sponsor, Spiral16. Originally posted in the Spiral16 blog as the second instalment of an event recap of Social: IRL’s recent workshop in St. Louis MO, with social business pioneer and Your Brand: The Next Media Company author, Michael Brito.

Michael Brito | @Britopian

Michael Brito | @Britopian

Tuesday I blogged about Michael Brito‘s advice concerning the need for businesses to become their own media companies. At the St. Louis Social:IRL workshop, he put forth a lot of great material that brands should be thinking about as they plan their social strategies.

Today’s blog concerns a topic that he spent a good amount of time on — one that has vexed social strategists and community managers for some time now.

His presentation was called Brand Advocacy: How Customers and Employees Can Shape Your Brand Story.

First he started off by defining the difference between a brand advocate and an influencer. An influencer has a high degree of reach. Maybe they have a large Twitter following or a popular Facebook page. An influencer’s relationship with a brand is incentive-based. To get an influencer on your side, posting about your initiatives and talking positively about your brand, they’ll often do things like fly the influencer to an exclusive event or offer them a prize if they post a certain amount of things.

The thing is: Conversation from an influencer stops when the incentive is over.

A brand advocate is someone that actually loves your brand wholeheartedly. They may not have a large reach, but they have a natural affinity for your company and emotional equity built up from years of satisfaction. (Think Apple or Starbucks — brands people are passionate about.) A brand advocate doesn’t need incentives. They deliver long-term business value because they talk about the brand in everyday conversation. If your business is smart, you are already listening online and can identify these advocates.

The thing is: They are so real and organic that they don’t know we’re even paying attention to them!

Because of social media and mobile interaction, conversations are influencing consumers at all stages of the purchase funnel — sometimes even influencing people NOT to buy. And many times, these people are employees of the company itself. Think about it, if your friend works for Sprint, you’re going to ask them a question about your service first, right? Here are some stats Michael referenced to prove his point:

  • 92% of consumers say that peer recommendations are the most reliable
  • 65% of business professionals are asking each other for advice in social media. (Knowing this stat, an advocacy program might be a good idea!)
  • 67% find employees of a company reliable when seeking info about brand/products

Use these insights and turn customers and employees into advocates, empowering them to share long-form stories that deepen brand affinity and influence others.

Advocates can:

  1. Drive awareness
  2. Change perceptions
  3. Educate customers and prospects
  4. Solve customer support issues
  5. Provide feedback and insight
  6. Influence peers to buy

Why try to actively turn customers and employees into advocates? What’s in it for the brand?

First off, you can gain third-party content, which — I can vouch for this being a content marketer myself — is always nice! Secondly, the amplification opportunities for the brand are enormous. Lastly, these advocates will develop into trusted sources for insights about the brand. They’ll tell you when you’re off course and when you’re kicking ass. And their opinion will matter. After all, they’re already in your court.

OK, well what’s in it for the advocates?

Advocates will get all kinds of rewards: Public recognition as a elite community member, access to exclusive content from the brand, a platform for sharing thoughts with a wider audience, and the opportunity to develop thought leadership. All these things will make them very happy.

Three Advocacy Programs to Think About Creating

  1. An employee activation and brand journalism program
  2. Customer advocacy or evangelism (make it campaign-driven or goal-driven)
  3. Brand storytelling – should be happening all the time, train employees to talk about brand externally, mobilize customers to do this
Five Steps to a Successful Advocacy Program
  1. Define the program
  2. Identify the right tools for advocate identification
  3. Activate them: Mobilize your advocates – enable brand sharing, empower them with quality content and rich activations
  4. Amplify advocacy in realtime: share advocate content
  5. Measure and optimize: top shared content, reach impressions, earned media value, sentiment/share of voice, community growth rate, number of trained employees

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